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The Complete Poems

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  13,748 ratings  ·  338 reviews

From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton's ten volumes of verse, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Live or Die, as well as seven poems from her last years.

Paperback, 656 pages
Published April 28th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published September 30th 1981)
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4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  13,748 ratings  ·  338 reviews

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Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, poetry, favorites
From the self-conscious and contemplative poems of To Bedlam and Part Way Back to the strange and surreal verse of The Awful Rowing Toward God, Anne Sexton's work encompasses a wide range of styles: few other American poets have written so many kinds of poems, on such different subjects, while successfully capturing the attention of the public. Often interested in personal relationships, as well as the bond between poet and audience, Sexton's poems consistently dazzle readers with inventive imag ...more
Steven Godin
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960) - 4/5
All My Pretty Ones (1962) - 5/5
Live or Die (1966) - 4/5
Love Poems (1969) - 5/5
Transformations (1971) - 3/5
The Book of Folly (1972) - 5/5
The Death Notebooks (1974) - 5/5
The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975) - 5/5

45 Mercy Street (1976) - 5/5
Words for Dr. Y (1978) - 4/5

Other Poems (1971-1973) - 5/5
Scorpio, Bad Spider, Die (1971) - 5/5
Last Poems - 4/5

All Anne Sexton's major work in one place, plus previously unreleased material to co
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
"strings are incurably playing...the composer has stepped into fire."

I devoured The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, whose poetry, especially her love poems, quivers with a pulsating eros as it sways to its orgiastic echoes.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments. Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing. You did this.
Pure genius at work. Darling, the composer has stepped
into fire.

From "The Kiss."

Hers was a tragic life, throughout most of which she
Jun 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Sexton is a bit of an obsession of mine--I've been reading her poetry since I was a teenager, and *almost* wrote my dissertation on her! She's often compared to Sylvia Plath (who was her friend), but her poetry is very different. Where Plath is something of an intellectual poet and a meticulous craftsman, Sexton is more dramatic and playful; she doesn't have the same control of language as Plath, but she is a little more accessible. Plath was an introvert, but Sexton loved to perform for an audi ...more
Feb 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm in this workshop and I have this poem and Kathleen Fraser says that if I don't take every pronoun out of my poem I run the risk of seeming confessional which is "at the worst, Anne Sexton, and at the best, Sylvia Plath." I felt stomped on. Not because she was right about my poem, but because I became aware that everyone could see me doing it, reading the complete Sexton, cover to cover one spring in college. I can see me beside the pool reading it and I'm thinking fuck you Kathleen, because ...more
Momina Masood
Aug 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-lit, poetry
"Someone once said that we have art in order not to die of the truth, a dictum we might neatly apply to Sexton's perspectives. To Hayden Carruth, the poems "raise the never-solved problem of what literature really is, where you draw the line between art and documentary." -- Maxine Kumin in her Foreword

Sexton's poetry transcends the shamelessly personal because, unlike Plath, she did not disguise herself behind metaphors; not in the least as cerebrally as Plath, anyway. And in doing so, she rend
Disclaimer: ARC via Open Road Media and Netgalley

I was first introduced to Anne Sexton in college during an American Poetry class. Actually, I was introduced to Sexton’s poetry because by that time she was long dead. Shortly afterwards, I read her Transformations which will always be one of my favorite books. In her poetic retellings of various Brother Grimm stories, from the most famous to less well known, Sexton shows how fairy tales are still current and powerful, and still can be connected
Apr 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What can I say about Anne Sexton? She's incomparable--perhaps wholly unique in the history of women's poetry. I'd like to review each of her books separately at some point, which is why I've kept this on my shelf for so long, even though I finished rereading the entire brick in March. As so many comment, the poetry is sometimes hit or miss--particularly in her last two or three collections. But far more often (which critics conveniently forget), she's absolutely on, absolutely raw, absolutely a ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have not read much poetry in the 15 years I have been alive. I have read the poems that are required, expected, to be read in school, but that is pretty much where it ends.
There are certain poets whose names I have seen and automatically wanted to read. Anne Sexton is one of them. Maybe it was the ‘sex’ in her last name that grabbed my attention. I am a teenage boy and all.
Maybe it's the picture of her on the cover of her Collected Poems, though I bought her Selected Poems first. I gave that a
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've carried this book around for a long time now and I think I'll continue to do so.
Melissa Riker
Mar 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loveitalways
Is there a match in the world to For my lover returning to his wife? I don't think so....
and then To my Little girl, My Stringbean
The motherly advice that "Dear Linda, Women are born twice"
Her words are perfect in so many ways.

There are poems that go too far for my to enjoy them - I like some darkness in life, but I've been through my melodramatic stage I don't need it quite as much....

that aside - read Transformations in its entirety - the reveal it gives to fairytales is a fabulou
M.L. Rio
Jul 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Sometimes brilliant, sometime baffling, frequently both.
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Beautiful, strong, and sad. These are not poems for the faint of heart. I appreciated reading her complete works, as this volume provided a fuller picture of the artist and her transformation over time. The anger and the darkness grow as the years pass, but Sexton never loses her focus and her courage.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Favorite collections:
Love Poems
The Death Notebook
The Awful Rowing Toward God

Favorite poem:
Wanting To Die

"Suicides have already betrayed the body."

"my death from the wrists,
two name tags,
blood worn like a corsage
to bloom"

"All day I've built
a lifetime and now
the sun sinks to
undo it"

"To die whole
riddled with nothing
but desire for it,
is like breakfast
after love."
Debra Rodgers
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have mixed feelings about poetry. I want to love it, but it is rare that I come across a poem or poet that I really enjoy. I want a poem to speak to me on a personal level; that is what a good poem is supposed to do. Admittedly, I am not the sort of reader that takes pleasure in dissecting or analyzing a piece. For me, a great deal of poetry is like a moody acquaintance that could be fascinating if he wasn't so difficult to like.

The first poem by Anne Sexton that I read was "Her Kind" and jus
Nov 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Men and Women
I originally gave this four stars because Anne Sexton is far from perfect and there are poems of hers (esp. Transformations) that I don't like that much but then again, when she's on, it's pretty much as close as I'm ever going to come to smoking crack. Really, I love how she can pile on the similes as if they were college students piling into a phone booth.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton brings together the eight books published in Sexton's lifetime ( To Bedlam and Part Way Back , All My Pretty Ones , Live or Die , Love Poems , Transformations , The Book of Folly , The Death Notebooks , The Awful Rowing Toward God ), and the two books published posthumously ( 45 Mercy Street , Words for Dr. Y: Uncollected Poems with Three Stories )...

From To Bedlam and Part Way Back ...

I am thirty this November.
You are still small, in your fourth year.
Dec 04, 2017 added it
Shelves: poetry
I had read a little of Anne Sexton over the years, not much, but I had remembered rather liking what I'd read. The Sylvia Plath comparisons are often made, but I like Sexton's accounts of depression and bloodied tampons quite a bit more -- I never got over Plath's melodrama, nor her studied misery. With Sexton, I feel like I'm getting the real thing, the 1950s mad housewife of legend as seen in the wild. Start with "Wanting to Die" - it's a classic for a reason after all, then work your way thro ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always been drawn to confessional poetry, so inevitably one of the first poets I came across when I started researching this genre was Anne Sexton. I was immediately addicted. Anne Sexton was a brilliant poet with a brutally honest voice and I was hooked. The first book I bought of hers is proof of this -every other page is dog-eared and about 90% of it is highlighted. I am still fascinated by her poetry and how she never shied away from any topic. Her life, heartbreaking and tumultuous is ...more
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
A Note on the Text, by Linda Gray Sexton
How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton

--To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960)

--All My Pretty Ones (1962)

--Live or Die (1966)

--Love Poems (1969)

--Transformations (1971)

--The Book of Folly (1972)

--The Death Notebooks (1974)

--The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975)

Posthumously Published Work

Editor's Note
--Mercy Street (1976)

Editor's Note
--Words for Dr. Y. (1978)

Last Poems
--Admonitions to a Special Person
--In Excelsis
--As It Was Written
--Lessons in Hunger
Cherise Wolas
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've been reading Anne Sexton's poems for months now. For those who don't like poetry, her work could change your mind.
Jul 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Anne Sexton is one of my favorite poets. Confessional poets have always appealed to me with their raw honesty and intensity.
Matthew Wilder
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Anne Sexton belongs on that shelf marked FOR THE LAYMAN. Like Allen Ginsberg and Kurt Vonnegut, she is one of those writers you don’t have to know much about writing to understand; and like them she is an avatar of literature as resource for expressing lived wisdom. For one who is relentlessly—awful contemporary word...CONFESSIONAL...the thing that separates Anne out from her 2019, Millennial, auto-fictiony cohort is that Anne keeps everything vivid, crackly, almost operatically intense. After T ...more
[Name Redacted]
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"Wanting to Die"
by Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, hi
Veronica Grupico
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed reading her collection of poems. It was interesting to get a glimpse into her tortured self. Besides Transformations, which is one of my favorite collections, I really like "All My Pretty Ones" (the poem) and "The Starry Night," which is a tribute to Van Gogh's painting but light-heartedly depressing it almost makes you chuckle at the same time. The juxtaposition between a painting that is serene and beautiful and her depression is so....beautiful.
Feb 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton is now available in ebook from Open Road Integrated Media. The book includes the complete poems and posthumously published work. It is a substantial volume of work. Sexton plumbed her own life as a woman, mother, daughter, wife and lover, addressed her struggle with depression, institutionalization, and suicide attempts.

The Publisher's Note explains how the poems were adapted to the ebook form. And How It Was: Maxine Kumin on Anne Sexton, a revealing essay abou
Lolly K Dandeneau
Her poetry isn't always dark, it has its childlike fairy tale moments- what is it about those tormented that we love to read? Honestly, it's the similar feelings and hungers we all have moment to moment. She was open and had no reservation about letting readers in. Her poems were about so many different things from death, to love and sex. They are timeless and meaningful and reading them induce the weirdest dreams I have had, admittedly I can say the same when I read Plath or Anais Nin's diaries ...more
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"I search in these woods and find nothing worse
than myself, caught between the grapes and the thorns."

4.5 of 5

It's been a while since I loved a poetry collection that much. Probably since I first read Federico Garcia Lorca's poems. Anne Sexton's writing is simply extraordinary. It's impossible to pick the best poem because there are so many of them. Still, among all these brilliant pieces Transformations with her interpretations of famous fairytales, and her early poems are probably the ones I
Dec 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I don't know how it is that I never spent much time reading Anne Sexton until now, but I absolutely love her work. Lively, bold, humorous, full of surprise, as well as searching for redemption, connection, meaning, God? but not forgiveness. I love this woman.

Here's a poem I'm digging:

Jesus Suckles by Anne Sexton, from Book of Folly, 1972

Mary, your great
white apples make me glad.
I feel your heart work its
machine and I doze like a fly.
I cough like a bird on its worm.
I’m a jelly-baby and you’re my
4 (3,5) stars to 1
To be honest, I was affected with the way she died and thus my high rating. Suicide though, doesn't make you a saint nor transforms you into a great artist \_(ツ)_/
I adored only two of her poems, so a four-star rating is a bit excessive.

Someone's ramblings Confessional poetry is not my thang.

ΒαΣκά, μου 'πρηξε την moonα.
Mar 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I got so much more than I bargained for.

As an English major I read more than my fair share of poetry. Mostly by guys, really. Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Milton, Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams. They were all showing me the nature of God, or perhaps god in nature. Beauty is Truth and Truth is Beauty---Keats was telling me what he thought I needed to know. While beautiful, I
Casey Kiser
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Just amazing. Also, I read her complete works after reading her daughter's memoir, 'Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide'. One poem in particular truly disturbed me having read Linda Gray Sexton so openly honest book. The poem was 'Pain for a Daughter' (among others). Anne was truly brilliant, tortured and not so great as a mom. But her poetry of such brutal truth is dear to me. I loved her poem regarding Sylvia's death. Sylvia and Anne, truly the backbone of the confessional genre.
Jun 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I need to read these again, because I never really chose a favourite poem or anything. Powerful, interesting stuff to read.
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Before Evanescence and Linkin Park ever became a cultural phenomena, Anne Sexton wrote poetry that captures the feelings of anguish, alienation, and a longing for human connectivity. Together we have haunted the black air, rearranged the disaligned, and ridden in the driver's cart. I have been her kind.

I take the book everywhere and it is not dog-eared because I take care of it. I am especially fond of her love poems. "Just an ordinary hand, longing for something to touch that touches back." You
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further
"Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold m
S.R. Grey
In a word: AMAZING! I think Sexton was a woman before her time. Her writing inspires, it evokes emotion. It's "real"...and just generally tears me up. But I love every line, every word chosen. Lines and words that create images in your mind, images that stick with you.

My favorite poem of hers:

For My Lover, Returning To His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my da
T.L. Cooper
Sep 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I listened to an interview in which Madonna mentioned that Anne Sexton's poetry influenced her. I was intrigued enough to research Anne Sexton because I'd never heard of her. Once I read a little about Sexton, I knew I needed to read her poetry, if for no other reason than to see if I could learn anything from her work that would help my own poetry writing. So I decided to buy The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton by Anne Sexton. I opted to take my time and only read a few poems a day when I started T ...more
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Anne Sexton was a poly-sensory, multimedia experience. Readings, film clips, photographs, recordings, interviews, outfits, rock groups, biographies and celebrity exposure are an inevitable part of the poems’ surround, and her work on the page is, for this reader, the least interesting part of her achievement. In a Coda to the bio, Middlebrook connects Sexton not so much with the poets of her generation as with later performing artists like Laurie Anderson, Annie Lennox, Patti Smith and Madonna, ...more
Jun 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebooks
this is the first time I've ever read a poetry book cover to cover, this is quite a new experience to me. Anne Sexton is a tortured soul, like all poets are, some of her poems were so touching, some of her lines affected me, at the same time she has poems that resemble ramblings of madness that made no sense to me and reading them was quite tedious. My next poetry book will be that of Anne's friend Sylvia, another confessional poetess, queen of sweet gloom.
Daniel Donatelli
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoy Anne Sexton's poetry. She combines a readable style with a cognitive and aesthetic ambiguity that allows the mind to put a lot of thought into these strange combinations of common words. It's clear she's done what I love for artists to do, which is to take their traumas and despair and turn them into art that is enjoyable for the reader and cathartic for the artist. Four stars rather than five, nevertheless, because sometimes she did what many modern poets not only do but often get prais ...more
Autumn Is Azathoth
Review: THE COMPLETE POEMS by Anne Sexton

The very complexity of Anne Sexton' s psyche informed her extensive poetry, her life, her relationships, her character, and ultimately her demise. In common with women authors Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton remains a larger-than-life icon in the pageant of literary history of the 20th century. Collected in this volume are the eight published collections and two posthumous collections, plus an insightful biographical introduction by Sexton' s
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sexton, my favorite forever
Kelli Hamill
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Simply amazing.
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I find that Anne Sexton's work is painful, beautiful and uncomfortable all at once. This is a nice collection for those especially who enjoy her poetry. This contains the complete collection of her work in the order that she wrote it, ending with the poems that were published posthumously.

I have spent many nights curled up in bed reading a poem or two before falling asleep. Sexton was writing during the 60's and 70's when some of the themes in her poetry were viewed as controversial, but she wro
Peeranan K
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I got this book from my college library, mainly for class, to mine for poems to use in assignments. We were doing a poetry unit. I was drawn to Anne Sexton, because I had heard the most about her (not very much), and so was the most interesting next to Galway Kinnell, and a few other poets on the shelf. There was also Sylvia Plath, and I knew about her too, but I thought she was boring compared to Sexton.

I did not read all of the poems in this collection, but I found out from what I did read, t
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Really, I'd give this book 2.5 stars, not 2. But anyway. I find myself pretty much agreeing with the reviews that I'd read of Sexton's body of work--unlike many poets, she starts off strong and then considerably weakens; she doesn't follow the usual bell curve trajectory. A friend of mine described Sexton as "Sylvia Plath lite" and I think I'd have to agree. There are many poems of Sexton's that I liked, often because of a similarity to Plath (in subject matter, voice, humor), but I found myself ...more
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Anne Sexton once told a journalist that her fans thought she got better, but actually, she just became a poet. These words are characteristic of a talented poet that received therapy for years, but committed suicide in spite of this. The poetry fed her art, but it also imprisoned her in a way.

Her parents didn’t expect much of her academically, and after completing her schooling at Rogers Hall, sh
“Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.”
“I am stuffing your mouth with your
promises and watching
you vomit them out upon my face.”
More quotes…